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Is Men’s Makeup Going Mainstream



So proclaims the press release announcing Chanel’s  first line of makeup for men, Boy de Chanel. Named for Coco Chanel’s lover Boy Capel, the line launched in September in South Korea and comes to stores in the US this year. 

The line may be capitalizing on a growing trend. Some believe that makeup for men is becoming more and more mainstream, buoyed by makeovers on Queer Eye and an expansive attitude toward masculinity among American youth. 

Men’s makeup is far from a new phenomenon. Male courtiers in 18th-century Europe wore it, and as Yi points out, cosmetics are already popular among men in South Korea. But in the US, men have traditionally shunned makeup.

If that’s changing, makeup could help men break down restrictive gender norms and express themselves more fully. But it could also force them to face something that has, until now, been mostly the province of women: the pressure to live up to unrealistic beauty standards by spending ever more of their income on lipsticks, powders, and creams.

“Beauty is about style. It knows no gender.”

Makeup, however, did not become mainstream for anyone in the US until the 1920s. 

“Companies that sell makeup could make twice as much money if they could sell to men,” Wade said. But that didn’t happen: “Somehow gender ideology beat capitalism in this competition.”

But others believe that when it comes to painting our faces, the boundaries between men and women are coming down. 

Meanwhile, brands like  Cover Girl and  Maybelline have featured men in their ads. And the popularity of Netflix’s Queer Eye has helped demystify cosmetics for men. 

There’s an increased pressure in recent years “for men to maintain youthfulness, and so it does seem that they’re increasingly seeking out aesthetic treatments,” said Jules Lipoff, MD, an assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania. 

But “it’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” he said. “Is it that men started to get more interested in it, and then they started marketing and pushing it more, or did they start marketing and pushing it more, and then there was more interest?”

Yi believes the ascendance of Generation Z is ushering in a more accepting attitude toward men’s makeup in American society.

Makeup for men could encourage self-expression — or self-doubt

Although research is limited, men’s skin appears to differ from women’s in certain ways, Lipoff said. A 1975 study found that men’s skin tended to be thicker than women’s, but that it lost more collagen with time. Men also tend to have different complaints about their skin than women. 

But men and women don’t really have different product needs from a dermatological perspective, Lipoff said. Most people can benefit from sunscreen, and a moisturizer if they have dry skin. 

Of course, feminists have long debated the politics of makeup for women, weighing the opportunities for experimentation and self-expression against the pressure to conform to a certain standard of beauty. At least since the second wave, feminist critics have taken aim at the expectation that women must modify their appearances to be attractive to men and acceptable in society. When singer-songwriter Alicia Keys began appearing in public without makeup in 2016, it was, in part, an effort to push back against such expectations.

“In the morning from the minute that I wake up,” she wrote in the song “Girl Can’t Be Herself,” “What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup? Who says I must conceal what I’m made of? Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.”

Others, meanwhile, have seen makeup as a way to assert their identities in a world that devalues them. 

Historically, few men have had to concern themselves with the politics of makeup. But if men’s makeup becomes mainstream, they may find themselves facing some of the same pressures’ women feel — and, perhaps, gaining some of the same opportunities for expression.

While men still face far less judgment about their appearance than women do, Lipoff said, increased focus on men’s looks could have an impact on their mental health. “I wouldn’t be surprised if with time, you start to see more body dysmorphic disorder, more eating disorders and other things increasing in men,” he said. In the UK, the number of men hospitalized for eating disorders rose by 70 percent between 2010 and 2016, the same rate of increase as among women, as  Sarah Marsh reports in the Guardian.

 Yi argues that men already have a lot of the same insecurities as women, “it’s just that they have been conditioned not to talk about it.” Women “have been able to identify the issues that they go through, and they are able to find ways to get over that stuff, whereas guys, they have all of these issues, but they’ve been bottled up,” he said.

By talking openly about men’s beauty along with other issues at Very Good Light, he said, he hopes to counteract the “toxic masculinity” that leads men to keep their problems to themselves.